BY LARA GARIBIAN
Renaissance. Rebirth. It happens in that one moment when we look at the mirror and ask if we truly know the person looking back at us.
That moment for me came in the Fall of 2008 when life had become too unmanageable that I was forced to ask myself what was going on. Who was I? What did I believe in? How did I see the world? What did I want?
The answer came from the woman in the mirror, who told me I had lost sight of who I was. She said I had allowed the world to dictate how I saw everything. She said I had allowed cultural influences, school, friends, and unfortunate events to strip my identity away and I needed to find my path to the truth again.
My mother, who was raised in the US, introduced me to the world of books, pop culture, and instilled in me Westernized ideas. My father, who grew up in impoverished Palestine, was a stickler for education and constantly reinforced the importance of learning different languages. Knowing five languages himself, he said the process would eventually open up a multitude of opportunities for me.
I grew up in a home where speaking English, Spanish, and Armenian was a norm. Learning about the Hispanic culture, listening to the music, and watching shows like “El Chapulin Colorado,” were a daily part of my existence. The same went for speaking Armenian, singing along to Adiss and Vatche, and watching Karnig Sarkissian’s video about entering prison until the VHS couldn’t play anymore. I also indulged in the world of American pop culture, where Paula Abdul was my “American Idol,” MTV was a guilty pleasure I’d have to sneak out to the living room to watch, and the American literature that was available to me was endless.
Our personalities and our lives are a constant struggle of our internal and external voices, and often in this modern age, the external voices drown out our true self. Those external voices for me began to drown my internal voice, starting as early as elementary school. I attended a private Armenian school, but the cultural clash between myself and my peers was evident.
I later attended an all-girls American Catholic school, where the barriers of gender roles were broken down. This taught me to be independent, free spirited and vocal about my feelings. It was one thing attending a school that was receptive to me talking about how I felt about love, family, and future goals; It was another to come home and put it into practice, because one didn’t coincide with the other.
The conflicting societal cues, peer pressure, and media messages eventually veered me away from my Armenian roots. Often I felt I didn’t belong with the other Armenian kids, because I wasn’t able to express my individuality without their criticism. I was made to feel different from them and their families in the extreme subcultures of our community. So I began to avoid them, much to the disappointment and frustration of my mother and father.
There I was, more lost than I could ever be. I felt like an outsider in my own body and the idea of ever coming to terms with who I am seemed unachievable.
Then on one not so very important day in early April 2009, I got a phone call from my cousin Nora Hovsepian. She had called to ask me if I’d like to join her and my cousin Arev in attending the Advocacy Days in Washington D.C. for April 24th. The first thing that appealed to me was the idea of going to the East Coast. I had long forgotten the little Broadway diva that lived inside my soul and for the first time in years, she woke up. Washington D.C. was not New York City, but it was sure close in proximity, and that was good enough for me.
Intimidation loomed over me like a dark cloud. What business did i have going to an Armenian event when I didn’t even know what it meant to be Armenian? Would I know then, once I went to Washington D.C, what it was to be Armenian? I took the leap of faith, because some things in life can’t be left to chance; the important things must be led by your own feelings to what you believe is right.
From the moment I stepped off the plane something happened. Something clicked. I felt in my bones that I was in the right place at the right time, for the first time in my life. The next morning we were off on our first day of advocacy. This was the day that would set the precedent for the rest of the trip. I was nervous about meeting new people and had no idea what to expect. The first person I met was Aram Hamparian who welcomed me with a big warm smile and a “Parev engerouhi! Good to have you with us.” Something about his jolly spirit and his kindness made me feel completely at ease. However, it was when I met Elizabeth Chouljian when I realized I belonged there. I remembered her from one of the past ANCA-WR banquets and her speech about “azkayeen bardaganootyoun,” (the duty to your people), had stayed with me, asking me constantly, how was I fulfilling my responsibility as an Armenian.
In my time spent with the ANC-Eastern Region, I learned about politics, activism, lobbying, and how gut wrenching it feels to watch counter protesters on April 24th. I learned that having my own set of ideas, interests, and values, in no way needed to prevent me from being part of something that I’d feared for many years. I also knew that this trip was just the beginning.They say to find yourself you have to go to Paris. Washington D.C. was my Paris. It was where I felt reborn. I felt in my heart I needed to come back to Los Angeles and continue to water the seed that had been planted in my heart.
Since my return in April of 2009, I’ve been writing for the Asbarez, sang at a myriad of Armenian events, and been very actively involved with the Armenian National Committee – Western Region. I’ve learned how to put together a “advocacy days” events, speak to legislatures and members of Congress, and how to continually find ways to stay involved in my community. I learned that every single one of us can contribute to our community based on our own individual strengths and that was acceptable enough for everyone. Most recently, I’ve been involved in putting together the monumental ANC – Grassroots, and ANC – WR event which is taking place November 25th, 26th, and 27th of this year.
The reason for sharing such a personal story is to challenge each and every Armenian-American out there to come and participate in something that may help you find your own place within your community, or even help you find your own identity. I love to write, sing, and talk to people. I am able to use my strengths to get involved; and find that all my interests are accepted as part of who I am, by an organization that appreciates individuality.
Whether you love film, literature, music, history, finances, computers, or even simply have an addiction to Facebook, then this conference is for you. This conference is the avenue you have been looking for to reach out, learn, and make a contribution with the talents and the passion that you have. ANC- Grassroots doesn’t tell you what to do over the course of three days. When you buy your ticket, you arrive not only as an attendee, but a participant; a team member and group thinker. We’ve invited thirty panelists to share their expertise, but the true dissemination of information and ideas comes from you; the attendee. The panelists will suggest action items, but you are encouraged to augment those items with your own personality. If D.C taught me anything, it was that the Armenian Cause isn’t advanced by a group entity. The ANC works as a cable, and in a cable the only thing strengthening it more, are the individual wires and strands that hold up the whole.
I invite you, the readers, to come and learn about how progressive our community has become and how it can offer so many different opportunities for those who want to get involved. I would love to see each and everyone of you attend and share your own personal journey to discovering your identity as an Armenian. The deadline, November 15th, 2011 is fast approaching, and I urge you all to go to www.itsmyseat.com/ANCWR to reserve your spot to an unforgettable weekend!